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Feature

The wait proves worth it: Mumbai turns on a celebration for India's homecoming

Thousands crammed into the parade route along Marine Drive and in Wankhede Stadium as fans got to see a World Cup again

S Sudarshanan
S Sudarshanan
05-Jul-2024
Rohit Sharma held the mic and the near-full Wankhede Stadium erupted in cheers. It was perhaps the much-awaited moment of the day. He started to speak but they wouldn't allow him to. He tried again. Nah, not happening.
The cricket faithful in Mumbai waited for what felt like eternity. Those from far off suburbs had thronged Marine Drive from as early as morning. Fans were to be allowed free entry into the Wankhede only from 4pm on first-come-first-serve basis, but the long queues made them throw the gates open more than half an hour before that. The heavens opened up just as they rushed in to grab their spots, leaving pairs of footwear strewn behind.
But none of that mattered at around 8:55pm. Not their parched throats. Not the lack of water or food. Nor the couple of brief spells of showers in the evening. Their energy levels when the victorious Indian squad made their way down the steps of the dressing room were just as high - if not higher than - as what they were when they had made their way in.
The traffic on Marine Drive had come to a standstill since the afternoon, thanks to the hordes of people that thronged it despite it being a working day. Rohan and Savtya, both in their early 20s and clad in India's 2023 World Cup jersey and 2016 T20 jersey respectively, had left their homes in Karjat - about 75kms to the south-east of Mumbai - at around noon. They were drenched in sweat and barely had their vocal cords intact when they boarded a train back home close to midnight. Through the five-hour wait, those at the venue grooved to popular numbers, interspersed with chants of " Mumbaicha raja, Rohit Sharma (Mumbai's king, Rohit Sharma)", "India, India!", "Sachiiinnn, Sachin!" The evening seemed endless, but not if you were among the 30,000-plus at the venue.
The open-top bus parade from Nariman Point to Wankhede began only after 7:30pm, a delay of over two and a half hours. The 1.5km journey, took close to 90 minutes with players soaking themselves every bit in the adulation from their fans. Rohit perhaps knew this feeling. He was part of the bus parade in 2007, when India had won the inaugural T20 World Cup. He alluded to the desperation of the fans for a world title being a bit more than the players.
Hardik Pandya was jeered in almost every game at the venue in IPL 2024, when he captained Mumbai Indians for the first time. But first when Hardik held the trophy aloft after the players entered the turf, and then when Rohit mentioned the last over of the Bridgetown game bowled by Hardik, the decibel levels were second to none. Hardik had, after all, played a telling role in the T20 World Cup 2024 - 144 runs at a strike rate of 151.57 and 11 wickets at an average of 17.36.
Virat Kohli, who was part of the 2011 World Cup win at this venue, broke into a dance in front of the MCA Pavilion when the group there played the famous Nashik Dhol. He had company in local boy Suryakumar Yadav and Axar Patel and pulled Rohit in, before the other players joined. It was an evening he wouldn't forget in a hurry, he later said. The crowd broke into a thunderous applause as soon as he praised Jasprit Bumrah for turning the tide against South Africa.
India's win in the T20 World Cup ended a wait of 11, 13 or 17 years, depending on whether their last ICC title - the Champions Trophy in 2013, their last World Cup win in 2011 or their previous World T20 title - is the starting point. It is a long span. They came within touching distance last year in the ODI World Cup, finishing runners-up. That only made the players, and fans no less, hungrier. Which reflected in the ceremony and celebration held five days after they won the final.
Hurricane Beryl delayed India's departure from Barbados, and they landed in New Delhi in the wee hours of Thursday after a 16-hour non-stop charter flight - AIC24WC (Air India Champions 24 World Cup). There they were greeted by enthusiastic fans despite heavy security, after which they met Prime Minister Narendra Modi for breakfast. Their flight to Mumbai for the victory parade and the felicitation was delayed by close to two hours. And then heavy traffic meant they had to take a detour to get to Nariman Point.
None of it diminished their spirits. Much like the Mumbaikars', who braved rain and traffic to be there for their stars. Mumbai Police had to issue warnings of overcrowding. Announcements were made at Churchgate station in the evening, asking people to refrain from heading towards Marine Drive or Wankhede Stadium. On a weekday evening, Mumbai left no stone unturned to show their affection towards the world champions.
"I am going to miss this… what I saw in the streets tonight," Rahul Dravid, India's head coach, said, his voice cracking because of a sore throat. Mumbai's gathering was perhaps just the right balm. On their first day in India as two-time T20 world champions, Rohit and co. couldn't have asked for more.

S Sudarshanan is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Sudarshanan7

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